- Horse Racing and British Society in the Long Eighteenth Century by Mike Huggins
Mike Huggins is a well-established authority on aspects of British popular culture, and sporting history in particular, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with an especial although not exclusive expertise in the history of horse racing. His earlier works include Kings of the Moor: Yorkshire Racehorse Trainers 1760-1900 (1991); Flat Racing and British Society 1790-1914: A Social and Economic History (2000); Horseracing and the British 1919-1939 (2003); and The Victorians and Sport (2004). In this new study, Huggins turns his attention to an earlier period, focusing on the social, cultural, and economic origins of what he describes as a "proto-modern sport," both "formative and anticipatory" in its organization and participants (p. 6). Modern racing, in Huggins's view, emerged not as a consequence of industrialization but owed instead to a variety of early modern developments including sporting professionalism, commercialization and increasingly sophisticated methods of financial exchange, and the emergence of a public sphere in which sporting records became an established feature. Regular newspaper reports of racing, including both advertising and race results, helped the sport to become part of a new leisure industry, and racing broke new ground in specialist periodicals, annual calendars that both summarized past results and publicized upcoming events. Coffee houses supported the betting market; certain public houses gained a reputation as "sporting" pubs. Following Stefan Szymanski, Huggins also emphasizes the role of "eighteenth-century associativity" (p. 11) in development of the sport, placing the history of racing within that of the club formation typical of the age.
The precise contours of a "long eighteenth century" are somewhat contentious and a matter of interpretation. Huggins has chosen to cover the period from the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and "Late Stuart and Georgian England" might have been a better descriptor in the title of this book. But in terms of sporting history, the early start date makes sense, reflecting this study's position within the history of popular leisure: the Restoration allowed a resurgence of activities prohibited during the Puritan Commonwealth. It also enables Huggins to contrast the Stuart monarchs' love of the "sport of kings" with the relative indifference of their Hanoverian successors.
To whom, exactly, the sport appealed is one of Huggins's key preoccupations. In previous work he has been keen to argue for middle-class enthusiasm for racing, to problematize the standard view of a respectable Victorian middle class which eschewed the pastimes—or vices—of their social superiors. It was not, he has claimed, merely the upper classes who enjoyed the gambling associated with racing. In Horse Racing and British Society, Huggins continues to argue for the broad social appeal of the sport. He acknowledges that in the eighteenth century horse racing was "most important to the predominantly male political and rural elite" (p. 7). But he also argues that it attracted an urban bourgeoisie, including women, and that race meetings were consequently "pan-class" activities, drawing together rich and poor, urban and rural members of society and "articulating [End Page 239] vertical ties" (p. 8) that held it together. This particular sport allowed a "tacitly controlled cross-class mixing" (p. 279) in a way that pugilism or cricket, for example, did not. A similar argument was made by David Itzkowitz, among others, for the development of fox hunting, a sport which would also be linked in the public imagination with a quintessential Englishness. But that broadened participation and appeal came about later, whereas racing had been identified by the Morning Chronicle as Britain's "ancient, authorized and national sport" as early as 1809 (p. 2).
Huggins's exploration of his proto-modern sport falls into two halves. In the first three chapters, he focuses on the position of horse racing within eighteenthcentury British society as a whole: the place of "race week" in the country's social life, the gambling associated with the sport, and the relationship between racing and...